Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #191
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
This is the fourth in a series on the Eric Newman US Coins Collection, one of the most famous US coin collections ever formed. Part 1 includes an introduction to Newman himself and his collection. Part 2 concerns patterns. Part 3 is about Newman’s Draped Bust Quarters, perhaps the all-time finest assemblage of that series. (Clickable links are in blue.) Here in part 4, the focus is on Newman’s certified “Proof-67” 1818 Capped Bust Quarter. Heritage will auction this coin and many other coins from the Eric Newman Collection in New York on Nov. 15th and 16th.
This coin is the only pre-1820 quarter that is NGC certified as a Proof and there are none so certified by the PGCS. This 1818 quarter is the only pre-1820 silver coin that I have ever seen that I regard as a true Proof, and I have been persistently examining 19th century Proof coins at major events for more than twenty years.
This 1818 quarter is NGC certified as “Proof-67” and has a sticker of approval from the CAC. Although the Proof status of this coin requires an explanation, the reasons for the 67 grade are clear. This coin has cool, dynamic mirrored fields, wonderful natural toning, and is more than very attractive overall. Also, it scores highly in the category of originality.
Imperfections are minor. There are few faint hairlines on Miss Liberty’s face and an occasional light line can be found in the fields. The technical imperfections are consistent with a 67 grade in the context of current standards, though no pertinent expert would grade this coin as 68.
The toning is moderate to deep, though colorful. A steel-blue overtone tends to dominate though many other colors are readily visible in actuality. Many aspects of this coin, including some colorful tones, are not revealed in published images that I have seen.
Miss Liberty’s hair exhibits more than one shade of russet. Her cap has russet and blue areas. The obverse (front) outer fields exhibit a neat green hue, as do some obverse stars. There is russet-gray color in the obverse inner field. Further, there are shades of orange-russet and red-russet about Miss Liberty on the obverse and about the eagle on the reverse (back of the coin). There are multiples shades of blue about the numerals of 1818. On both sides, some of the dentils, toothlike structures just inside the rims, are a gray-green color.
I. Excitement of a pre-1820 Proof
I have never seen a pre-1820 gold coin that I regard as a Proof, though I have seen two that are Specimen Strikings. The two or three 1817 large cents and one 1819/8 large cent that are certified as Proofs are certainly controversial. I will discuss these at another time.
Richard Burdick remarks that, in all the decades that he has been carefully studying large cents, he does “not remember ever seeing a pre-1820 large cent that I called a Proof. The 1819/8 cent in the Pittman Collection is not a Proof.” The Pittman coin is the 1819/8 large cent that is certified as being a “Proof.” Burdick has seen most of the surviving large cents that are Proofs or have been represented as Proofs. Indeed, Richard assembled one of the all-time greatest collections of Proof large cents, which he sold to Ted Naftzger.
Also, I have never come across a serious report of a pre-1820 dime or half dime being a Proof. None of the Proof silver dollars dated 1801, 1802, 1803 or 1804 could have been minted prior to 1834.
Three 1818 halves are NGC certified as Proofs; all three were so certified prior to 2008. No other pre-1820 half dollars have been NGC certified as Proofs. The PCGS has not certified any pre-1820 silver coins as Proofs.
I am very familiar with two of the three NGC certified halves. On multiple occasions, I examined the NGC certified “Proof-65” half that was formerly in the collection of George Byers, which Stack’s auctioned in Oct. 2006. I agree with Richard Burdick, who says, “in my opinion, the Byers 1818 half is not a Proof.” Indeed, I am astonished that the NGC certified this coin as a Proof.
An Eliasberg Collection 1818 half has been NGC certified “Proof-66” since before 2002, perhaps shortly after it was auctioned by Bowers & Merena in April 1997 for $103,500. It was auctioned by Heritage for $126,500 in Jan. 2008 and for $105,750 in Jan. 2013. The 66 grade is not controversial. If most relevant experts strongly maintained that it is a Proof, though, it would have sold for more than $200,000, maybe even for more than $300,000, in 2008 or 2012. Burdick remarks that “its Proof status is questionable.”
I have respect for some of the experts who contend that this Eliasberg 1818 half is a true Proof, and it may be some kind of presentation coin. In my view, however, it is a wonderful, prooflike business strike, with few imperfections and very pleasant natural toning. I doubt that this Eliasberg 1818 half would be approved by the CAC while in a holder that refers to it as a “Proof,” and my belief is that experts at the PCGS have refused to certify it as a Proof.
Grading coins and identifying Proofs, though, involve different skills. It is often erroneously concluded, even by grading experts, that a sharply detailed coin with full reflective surfaces, is necessarily a Proof. Other factors must be taken into consideration.
This Eliasberg 1818 was just struck once and not in a special way. The devices are generally ordinary, in low relief, with no particular squaring. Many 1818 halves are well detailed. The reflective fields are probably indicative of dies that were polished, in an ordinary fashion, prior to being used, or were polished at a later time to smooth out imperfections.
As for the third 1818 half that is NGC certified “Proof-65,” it was struck from a die pairing that is different from the pairing that was used to strike the already mentioned Eliasberg and Byers 1818 half dollars. Since I am unsure as to the pedigree and physical characteristics of this third 1818 half that is certified as a “Proof,” I am not commenting upon it here. Though I have never seen it in its NGC holder, I may have seen it before it was certified.
As for the pre-1820 coins in the Smithsonian Institution that are sometimes referenced as ‘Proofs,’ I have not seen them. No one who I know has seen them and has explicitly told me that even one of them is definitely a true Proof. An overall point is that pre-1820 Proofs or Specimen Strikings are incredibly rare. These are among the most elusive, complicated and exciting of all U.S. coins.
There are a few true Proof quarters dating from 1820 to 1828, though not of every year in between. In every decade, several of these appear at auction. The magical aspect of the Newman 1818 quarter is that it was minted prior to 1820.
There are also pre-1820 U.S. coins that are Specimen Strikings, specially made coins that do not fulfill minimum criteria to be a Proof. It is likely that fewer than a dozen pre-1820 U.S. coins are true Specimen Striking, maybe fewer than four in silver!
The most impressive, pre-1820 silver Specimen Striking is the Carter 1794 silver dollar. It sold for more than $10 million on Jan. 24, 2013. (Please remember that clickable links are in blue.)
II. Proof Characteristics
There are many late 19th century coins, and even some U.S. coins from the 1840s, that are obviously Proofs. There is thus is no need to analyze the claimed Proof status of those in detail, as a subconscious analysis by an expert will almost always lead to the conclusion that such an obvious Proof is a Proof. This 1818 quarter, though, is not an obvious Proof. An analysis is needed. For such an analysis, it is necessary to inspect the devices (raised design elements) of a coin, with ten or more times magnification, to evaluate its Proof status or lack thereof.
As was emphasized in my discussion of the Proof 1855-S quarter in July, there is no one criterion that demonstrates that a coin is a Proof. There are non-Proofs with mirror surfaces. There are business strikes that are more sharply struck than corresponding Proofs of the same date and type. There are even non-Proofs that were struck more than once.
The rims and edge on a Proof also tend to be qualitatively different from those on a corresponding business strike. While the rims and edge on this Newman 1818 quarter are well formed and distinctive, these constitute only a minor piece of evidence to demonstrate its Proof status and I am thus not listing the rims and edge factors among the five criteria that together demonstrate this quarter is a Proof.
1) Reflective fields: The NGC certified “PF-67” Newman 1818 quarter has fully reflective fields that are substantially mirrorlike. The mirror effect of the reverse (back) fields is greater than that of the obverse (front). When this coin is tilted under a lamp, the mirrored fields on both sides seem deeper and flashier than they did when I first examined the coin.
Are the mirrors as glossy and deep as they are on most of the obvious Proof silver U.S. coins that were struck in the 1840s or 1860s? No, they are not that powerful. The mirrored surfaces, however, are different from those of most prooflike business strikes and different from the reflective surfaces that characterize the Amon Carter, Specimen-66 1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar.
2) Excellent detail: The detail on the obverse (front) of this 1818 quarter is greater than the detail on most (or all?) other high grade 1818 quarters struck from the same obverse die. The reverse is also well detailed.
3) Cameo characteristics: Some, though not all, Proof coins are struck with cameo contrasts, white frosted design elements near relatively dark, mirrored fields. Cameo contrasts vary in intensity and completeness. The presence of any cameo contrast is evidence that a coin is a Proof, though there are a significant number of non-Proof U.S. coins that have cameo contrasts as well. Put differently, the presence of a cameo contrast does not demonstrate that a coin is a Proof, though it is a piece of evidence that, along with much other evidence, could significantly contribute to a conclusion.
On this 1818 quarter, there is much cameo contrast relating to Miss Liberty and her hair on the obverse. On the reverse, the eagle and much of the political banner, ‘E. PLURIBUS UNUM,’ are significantly cameo.
4). The relative absence of mint luster: Business strikes tend to have luster, while Proofs usually have almost zero luster.
When a business strike is made, metal tends to flow in microscopic lines that often form radial patterns, which sometimes are reminiscent of the spokes of a wheel. Mint luster is not defined by how a coin reflects light in general; mint luster is a function of how metal flow lines on a coin reflect light.
The visual effects of light reflecting from metal flow lines are usually very much evident on ‘mint state’ business strikes and are minimal in regard to Proofs. Regarding Proofs, special treatment of blanks and/or extensive polishing of dies, presumably in combination with multiple strikes, prevents significant lines of metal flow from emerging in the manner that such lines emerge when business strikes are made. Logically, there must be ultra-microscopic flow lines on Proof coins, though these are unlike the flow lines on business strikes. Most Proofs have such little luster that they almost seem to have ‘no luster.’ A coin without luster, though, may be very bright.
While ‘mint luster’ is difficult to explain, the visual aspects of luster are present in the minds of collectors who have carefully viewed many uncirculated business strikes. Although this is a superb quality coin, there is very little luster on this 1818 quarter. The relative absence of luster is further evidence that it is a Proof. Even some Specimen Strikings have more luster than this 1818 quarter.
5) Device Forms: Usually, major differences between a Proof and a business strike stem from relationships of the devices to the fields. Devices are design elements and border elements.
W. Breen, Richard Doty, and most other researchers in the past, have asserted that silver or gold Proofs were struck at least twice and that business strikes were typically struck once. Multiple strikes cause some devices to develop into better defined structures and to form relationships to adjacent fields that are different from corresponding phenomena on business strikes. More recently, some researchers have suggested that the better defined device structured and special device-to-field relationships on 19th century Proof coins are really due to squeezing under extra-pressure, rather than to multiple strikes.
Photo Caption: Proof and Business Strike composite image of 1818 quarters struck with the same obverse die. The phot shows parts of each coin in contrast to the analogous parts of the other. For example, the upper dentils of the Proof are distinct from the upper dentils of the corresponding business strike.
On a large number of 19th century Proofs, I have seen clear evidence of multiple strikes. I will continue to adhere to the traditional double-strike theory unless I read convincing evidence that supports the one slow, more forceful squeeze-strike theory. Either way, though, more metal is forced into the upper recesses of the dies and the formation of the devices is usually, substantially different on Proofs than on business strikes.
On a Proof coin, the faces and intersection of sides of devices are more fully formed and more geometrically structured. Importantly, the faces on some of the devices on this 1818 quarter are dramatically better formed than the faces on corresponding devices on business strike 1818 quarters that I have seen.
On most business strikes, the devices (raised elements) very much appear to slope into or ‘flow into’ the fields. On most Proofs, however, at least some devices look more like they are resting on the fields, almost as if they are architectural shapes that were added. Indeed, some devices on many Proofs are characterized by an optical illusion; they appear, at a glance, to be separate from the adjacent fields. On both Proofs and business strikes, of course, metal from each planchet did flow into the crevices of the dies to form devices (raised elements) on coins as they are struck.
A second way to think of the relationships between devices and adjacent fields is that, on Proofs, some devices (raised elements) look blocklike or like sculptures, rather than being blatantly revealed as ‘blending in’ with the fields. On business strikes, many devices seem to slope into or from the fields, and are not crisply defined. A third way to conceptualize these relationships is to analyze the extent to which devices are ‘squared’ from the fields.
Ideally, on a 19th century Proof, every numeral and letter would be relatively high, fully formed, and very much perpendicular to the fields; every dentil would be perfectly struck, squared and distinct from the rim; all devices (design elements) would be crisp, of higher relief than on business strikes, and markedly distinct from the fields, almost as if they are separate units; there would be no mushiness or evidence of die flow. There is no perfect Proof, however, and some true Proofs have less powerful Proof characteristics than other true Proofs.
The main reason why the concept of squaring is not widely understood is that some coin experts wrongly refer to squaring in ‘all or nothing’ terms.’ Such squaring is not absolute. It refers to the angles to adjacent fields of the sides of devices (raised elements) on coins. There is some squaring on business strikes. Usually, not always, there is much more squaring, in relative terms, on a Proof than on a corresponding or directly relevant business strike. Indeed, to determine whether a coin is a Proof, it is helpful to become familiar with the physical characteristics of relevant business strikes.
For some 19th century coins, it takes much longer to determine the Proof or business strike status of a coin than it does to grade it. When such coins are interpreted quickly by expert graders, business strikes may be incorrectly labeled as Proofs or true Proofs may be incorrectly labeled as business strikes (“Mint State” coins).
In this category of the relationships between devices and adjacent fields, this 1818 quarter does not qualify for a nearly perfect score, yet many of the devices on this coin are dramatically different from the corresponding devices on many other 1818 quarters, including those struck from the same pair of dies. I am not here referring to the fact that this 1818 quarter has more design detail, as this is a point that I already mentioned. Besides, even if this 1818 quarter did not feature quite as much design detail as it does, it would still be a Proof.
The stars on the obverse vary though all are in relatively high relief and are bold. All show some signs of squaring, some much more so than others. These seem to be stars that would be associated with a Proof rather than the stars that would be found on a business strike. The stars on the (observer’s) right side are apparently in high relief and are very much squared. These certainly provide evidence that this coin was struck twice, and I theorize that it was struck twice. I really am skeptical that the metal of the planchet could have flowed into the recesses of the dies to the extent that the metal did, and the devices could have become as crisp as they are, without a second strike.
Plus, at least several of the stars project the optical illusion of resting on the fields, rather than having been sprung from them. Many of the obverse dentils, particularly upper dentils, are very squared and are significantly different from the dentils typically found on relevant business strike coins.
Many reverse dentils and the arrows are relatively squared, too, some to a very substantial extent. For many (not all) types of coins, the dentils are often a defining characteristic of a Proof. A second strike sort of gives these extra dimensions.
When determining whether a coin is a Proof, it is imperative to consider factors in addition to mirror surfaces or overall glossiness. While experts can often form a strong hypothesis that a coin is or is not a Proof by just glancing at it, it is necessary to use magnification to be sure; the relationships of design elements to fields, among other factors, must be carefully interpreted.
This 1818 quarter definitely fulfills minimum criteria to be a Proof. It is not the most convincing pre-1830 Proof silver coin that I have ever seen, though it has more powerful Proof characteristics than some other true, pre-1840 Proofs.
Over the last six years, I have analyzed, at length, differences between Proofs, business strikes and Specimen Strikings. I hope that more people will read my analytical works on 1841 Quarter Eagles, a Specimen 1839-O dime, the Garrett 1829 Half Eagle, a Proof 1907-D Double Eagle, the Turtle Rock Collection of dimes, the unique Proof 1855-S quarter, the only known Proof 1839 Quarter, and, of course, the incredible Carter 1794 dollar!
©2013 Greg Reynolds
Questions? e-mail: insightful10 gmail.com
Early proofs appear to be a matter of quite some variance of opinion between various collectors and independent, PCGS and NGC experts. Logically, the difference in early mint equipment would mean in turn a different standard for an early proof coin compared to a later struck coin with steam power. An early US worker may have polished dies, struck a coin multiple times and picked a near perfect planchet to deliver a “proof” or “presentation piece” for an early mint purpose. These coins might have looked very different just when struck compared to “modern” proofs after 1840. Although clearly true that more pressure could have be applied with earlier presses depending on how they are employed, the speed and rate of compression effects metal flow as well as the peak pressure. These things need to be considered when expressing opinions as to what constitutes an early proof IMHO. Since of course none us were around at the time of the US early mint, each of us will draw our conjectures from our own beliefs, based upon our individual experience as well of those from our colleagues and mentors. Thanks for your carefully discussed article on the complicated subject matter in this controversial area.